US Coins

Retired engraver Mercanti to get Rittenhouse Award

Retired U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti is to be feted May 17 by Historic RittenhouseTown with the David Rittenhouse Award for his contributions to America’s artistic legacy.

A reception and dinner is slated to be held in Mercanti’s honor at the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pa.

Mercanti’s recognition is part of a year-long celebration by the U.S. Mint of its 225th anniversary and the anniversary of David Rittenhouse being named the first U.S. Mint director.

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“The David Rittenhouse Award honors those who demonstrate excellence as it represents one of the many contributions that Rittenhouse made to American history,” says Barbara Rittenhouse, president of the board of directors of Historic RittenhouseTown in Philadelphia. “David Rittenhouse was an amazing man. In his lifetime, he was an astronomer, inventor, mathematician, surveyor, and the successor to Benjamin Franklin as president of the American Philosophical Society. We reserve this prestigious award for those who have contributed their talents at the highest level to our nation.”

Previous recipients of the David Rittenhouse Award have included Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and planetarium director of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia; Keith Thomson, executive officer of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia; and Owen Gingrich, professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. 

40 years in service

Mercanti spent four decades in federal government service, more than three of them as a member of the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff headquartered at the Philadelphia Mint. Mercanti is credited with being the most prolific artist on the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff, producing more coin and medal designs than any other artist in U.S. Mint history.

While Mercanti created an extensive body of work, perhaps most recognized is his Heraldic Eagle reverse that has graced the American Eagle silver dollar since its introduction in 1986. Mercanti also contributed the Lady Liberty obverse found on the American Eagle platinum coin series minted since 1997.

Since retiring from the Mint, Mercanti has designed coins for other nations, including Australia, whose Perth Mint has struck coins bearing the artist’s design of a wedge-tailed eagle. He has also reinterpreted designs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens for a medal.

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A native of Philadelphia, Mercanti received his artistic training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia College of Arts and the Fleisher Art Memorial School. Mercanti considers his closest mentor to have been Frank Gasparro, who served from Feb. 23, 1965, to Jan. 16, 1981, as the 10th presidentially appointed chief engraver of the United States, succeeding Gilroy Roberts.

Chief engraver

When Mercanti retired from the U.S. Mint on Dec. 30, 2010, he, too, held the title of chief engraver, but it was bestowed upon him in 2009 as senior sculptor-engraver by then U.S. Mint Director Edmund C. Moy; the presidentially appointed position had disappeared during budget cutting several years previously.

Historic RittenhouseTown, a National Historic Landmark District in Philadelphia, is an authentic 18th century early industrial village and site of British North American’s first paper mill. Six Rittenhouse structures survive including David Rittenhouse’s birthplace, the 1707 Rittenhouse Homestead.

For more information, visit online, email the site at or telephone it at 215-438-5711. 

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